May 1, 2007

Dr. Deming still inspires

I spent a couple of days last week at a seminar called “How to create unethical, ineffective organizations that go out of business…many organizations do it, but do you know how you do it?”

Most of us have extensive experience in managing poorly, so learning more about doing it wasn’t really at the top of my list…but you get it, they were being provocative.

The Deming Institute, through the graciousness of Joyce Orsini of Fordham University and the help of John Hunter, one of the instructors (better known to many as Curious Cat, allowed me to attend as a guest.

Like everyone else, I have known who Dr. Deming was and had imbibed a few sips of his philosophy over the years, but had never spent that much time really trying to understand.
The Deming Institute has had time to distill the most enduring and cohesive of his teachings, saving the rest of us the trouble of figuring out what best stands the test of time. I’m one of those people who, when someone talks about the red bead game, nods her head and pretends she knows what they’re talking about. I took a year of statistics in college – what else is there to know? And I’ve seen control charts before. But in my heart, I knew I was faking it, thus my gratitude at being able to go to the seminar.

An aside – when I said I was retired, someone asked, “Then why would you want to be here?” Well, I don’t play golf. If you don’t keep learning, you might as well reserve your rocking chair at the old folks home right now. I love my new career as an editor, mostly because I get to learn all kinds of cool stuff.

We all got copies of Dr. Deming’s books, “Out of the Crisis” and “The New Economics.” The seminar is largely based on the latter. Yes, you could get the book and sit by the pool this summer and read it, but a formal presentation with discussion and questions is a much more satisfactory way to learn. Plus, you get to meet a lot of people.

Our class included several guys from Peaker Industries, a company managed in concert with Deming’s principles, who still regarded themselves as learners. Dick Steele was one of them. Dick’s been a member of a local Deming Study Group, as is my friend Terry Begnoche. These folks have been meeting regularly for umpteen years just to talk about how Deming’s thoughts affect the world – I think. I’m counting on an invitation to one of their meetings so I can find out for sure.

Dick and his colleagues at Peaker have been pondering compensation policies – if Deming says no incentive pay, how do you pay top managers in the real world? (Peaker refers to “peaker” generators, used to meet peak energy demands, like the hottest day of the summer. The company repairs and rebuilds those, plus locomotive engines and other gigantic stuff.)

On the second day of the seminar, we were joined by a delegation from China. They had missed the first day because the notorious airline system couldn’t reliably meet its schedule. All were officials of the China Quality Certification Center in various cities around the country. Although they had some difficulty with spoken English, they were obviously well versed in Deming’s teachings. Their study tour was going to hit several world-class companies.

If you’ve been complacent about the Chinese being able to meet high quality standards, you better start thinking again. The AIAG (Automotive Industry Action Group) is on the job – their CEO just paid a visit to the CQC’s main office in China. Here’s an example of just how serious the CQC is, in their own words:

September 11 to 15, 2006, with the invitation of United States UL safety-testing laboratory, China Quality Certification Center (CQC) and China Certification and Accreditation Association (CCAA) formed a coalition delegation, went to Chicago of United States to hold the training course of factory inspector of outside compulsory product certification and the registration examination. And at the same time, they will discuss the training cooperation with U.S. UL security testing laboratory.

The Manager of UL Americas area Leon participated in the opening ceremony. At the opening ceremony, he urged the UL participants to study seriously and master the related inspection requirements of the using of compulsory product certification in factories, in order to lay foundation for the future commitment to the supervision and inspection commission and ensure the smooth implementation of the 3C factory inspection of CQC. 22 participants from UL safe testing laboratories company of United States attended the training and registration examination.

This training course is aim at the regular supervised and inspection content which implemented annually to the enterprises abroad which have gotten the certification. It focus on the introduction of China Quality Certification Center, China's compulsory product certification system, the understanding of the requirements of factory quality insurance capacity, the implementation requirements of overseas entrusted the supervision and inspection and the contents of the guide book about related operations of factories inspection which was established by China Quality Certification Center. The training courses used interactive teaching method, teachers teach in the classroom, and the teachers and students ask questions alternately, so the course is rich in content, and had a lively atmosphere. To promote a deeper understanding, this course has also increased the case practice courses, and combining the cases to explain particularly.

With the accompany of chief engineer James of UL safety testing laboratories in the United States, the delegation visited the headquarters of the UL lab. Mr. James highly evaluated and appreciated the success of the CQC course. He also talks the training cooperation in the field of product certification with the delegation. Both sides of CQC and UL have expressed the willingness to co-develop a broader product certification market and will further strengthen the cooperation on training.

Besides UL compliance, the CQC is able to help companies comply with ISO 9000, QS 9000, CE product certification and a raft of other standards. Although the English version of the website is a bit sparse compared to the Chinese, you can tell that this is serious. So were our delegates, and they were great guys.

Another node of interest at the seminar was the CQI (Capital Quality Initiative), an organization based at Lansing Community College. CQI puts on executive breakfasts and lunches with speakers about quality, offer scholarships, and other good things. Maybe their theme for the year says it best, "Challenging assumptions, one mind at a time.”

One of Dr. Deming’s contributions is his “system of profound knowledge.” Our class had a gadfly who landed on this one – he asked whether calling it “profound” wasn’t a bit pretentious. This is a reminder that when we encounter words used in the past – and Deming’s manner of speech was closer to the 1920s than the 1990s – we have to allow for the way language changes. Right after “profligately,” in my dictionary is “profound.” It means “deep,” it doesn’t mean “the most astonishing revelation ever.” In fact, “pro” is related to “forward” and “fundus” is “bottom.” Think “foundation.” Let’s get to the bottom of this. We’re going forward, we haven’t arrived.

With this four-part system of thinking, Dr. Deming has absolved me of some of my greatest sins. He says the person who understands the system will, among other things, “help people pull away from their current practice and beliefs and move into the new philosophy without a feeling of guilt about the past.” And I really have been feeling guilt as I have reflected on my practices back when I was a manager. They affected people negatively and didn’t work. Seriously, sometimes I feel miserable when I think about it or read about how it ought to be and I have to go read British mystery novels to take my mind off it. Even if you allow for “a bad system beating a good person every time” a lot of us have had some pretty miserable experiences.

So the good news is, we can stop feeling guilty, and start doing better. Even if our management careers are in the past, and we can’t actively practice Deming management, we can still “help people understand.” If we keep learning, that is.
Pictures courtesy of the Deming Institute

1 comment:

robert said...

This is a great post. My two favourite quotes from Dr Deming are:

“It takes courage to admit that you have been doing something wrong, to admit that you have something to learn, that there is a better way.”


Question: “How long will it take the United States to catch up with Japan?”

Dr. Deming: “Do you think Japan is standing still?”



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